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The Meaning of Life (1983)


The film begins with a stand-alone 17-minute supporting feature entitled The Crimson Permanent Assurance (directed by Terry Gilliam). Set in London, England in present day 1983, a group of elderly office clerks in a small accounting firm rebel against their emotionlessly efficient, yuppie corporate masters. They commandeer their building, turn it into a pirate ship, and sail into a large financial district, where they raid and overthrow a large multinational corporation (before ultimately sailing to the edge of the earth and falling off).The film proper consists of a series of distinct sketches, broken into seven chapters.Part I: The Miracle of BirthA woman in labour is taken into a hospital delivery room, where she is largely ignored by doctors (John Cleese and Graham Chapman) and nurses, who are more concerned with using the hospital's most expensive equipment to impress the hospital's administrator (Michael Palin). The woman in labour notices that hospitals are changing, with "lots and lots of machinery".The Miracle of Birth Part II - The Third World In YorkshireA Roman Catholic man (Palin) loses his employment. He goes home to his wife (Terry Jones) and an impossible number of children, where he discusses the church's opposition to the use of contraception, leading into the musical number "Every Sperm Is Sacred". Watching this unfold, a Protestant man (Chapman) proudly lectures his wife (Eric Idle) on their church's tolerance towards contraception and having intercourse for fun, although his frustrated wife points out that they never do.Part II: Growth and LearningA schoolmaster (Cleese) and chaplain (Palin) conduct a nonsensical Anglican church service in an English public school. The master lectures the boys on excessively detailed school etiquette regarding the school cormorant, and hanging clothes on the correct peg. In a subsequent class, the schoolboys (Idle, Palin, Jones, Chapman, and others) watch in boredom as the master gives a sex education lesson, by physically demonstrating techniques with his wife (Patricia Quinn). Later, a team of boys is beaten physically and on the scoreboard in a violent rugby match against the masters; the scene then match cuts to Part III.Part III: Fighting Each OtherA World War I officer (Jones) attempts to rally his men (Chapman, Gilliam, Palin, Idle, and Cleese) to find cover during an attack, but is hindered by their insistence on celebrating his birthday, complete with presents and cake.A blustery army RSM (Palin) attempts to drill a platoon of men but ends up left alone when he excuses them one by one to pursue leisure activities.In 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War in Natal, a devastating attack by Zulus is dismissed due to a far more pressing matter: one of the officers, Perkins (Idle), has had his right leg bitten off during the night. The military doctor (Chapman) hypothesises that, despite not being native to Africa, a tiger might be the perpetrator. Ainsworth (Cleese), Packenham-Walsh (Palin) and a sergeant (Jones) form a hunting party, which encounters two suspicious men (Idle and Palin) dressed in two halves of a tiger suit, who attempt to assert their innocence through a succession of increasingly feeble excuses to explain why they are dressed as a tiger.The Middle of the FilmA woman (Palin), as if on a talk-show called "The Middle of the Film", introduces a segment called "Find The Fish" a brief surreal piece in which a drag queen (Chapman), a gangly long-armed man (Jones), and an elephant-headed butler eerily challenge the audience to find a fish in the scene.Part IV: Middle AgeA middle-aged American couple (Idle as the wife and Palin as the husband) heads to a dungeon-themed Hawaiian restaurant at a holiday resort. They are presented with a menu of conversation topics by their waiter (Cleese), and choose philosophy and the meaning of life. Their awkward and generally uninformed conversation quickly grinds to a halt, and they send it back, complaining "This conversation isn't very good."Part V: Live Organ TransplantsTwo paramedics (Chapman and Cleese) arrive at the doorstep of Mr. Brown (Gilliam), a card-carrying organ donor, to claim his liver. He protests on the basis that he is not dead, but is nonetheless gruesomely operated on against his will. Cleese's paramedic unsuccessfully attempts to chat up Mrs. Brown (Jones), then requests her liver as well. She initially declines, but after a man (Idle) sings a song about man's insignificance in the universe ("The Galaxy Song"), she agrees.In a large corporate boardroom, a businessman straightforwardly summarises his two-part report on the meaning of life: that the human soul must be "brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation", which rarely happens because people are easily distracted; and that "people aren't wearing enough hats." This is followed by an attempted takeover of the building by the Crimson Permanent Assurance from the short feature.Part VI: The Autumn YearsA posh restaurant (complete with a pianist played by Idle, singing "The Penis Song"